Richmond home invasions and robberies

For more of my commentary on life in Richmond, Indiana check out RichmondMatters.com.

Richmond seems to be experiencing a rise in home invasions and robberies, including one early this morning that happened within shouting distance from where I've lived for 5 years.  It could be the case that the increase is just a matter of perception (because more are being reported and then covered by the media), but the facts seem to bear out some sort of trend, and possibly a serial home invader at work.

It's hard to know what to think about this trend.

It could be the work of a very disturbed individual, but the related rash of business robberies would seem to point to some larger phenomenon.  In tough economic times, it's normal for some individuals who were already at the edge of being able to survive to take new approaches, including crime.  I don't think there's a direct economic motivation to invade someone's home and assault them if you could "only" rob them instead, but if this is a general breakdown of some social contracts that we have with each other not to go ape-shit just because we can, that too could be tied back to tough economic times.

It's also hard to balance empathizing with the victims and experiencing the fear that hearing about these incidents creates with trying to still see the larger picture that these are isolated acts in an otherwise generally safe city.  But as we've seen with various national and local crises (e.g. "The D.C. Sniper", school shootings, etc.) it only takes one very vivid imagining of "that could have been me!" to cause us to change our behavior.

The police say that they're working on this, and we have to take their word for it.  It would be helpful if someone could offer a significant financial reward for information leading to the capture of anyone involved in the home invasions; if economics is a motivating force, then you can play along by offering an even stronger version of that motivating force.  But none of that will change the fact that there are people living among us who feel they can or need to commit robbery, sexual assault, or worse - this is a deeper problem that no police force can systematically address.

So, how does a community address this particular kind of trend?   Is it about community policing and neighborhood watches and more funding for law enforcement?

Or does it involve more interpersonal accountability, healthier families and neighborhoods, cultural shifts away from objectification of women, examining the media messages we consume and what they encourage, better education, and new models for how individuals can be valued and make a living?

I suspect that elements of all of the above are important, but all of them take time, and that won't help anyone sleep any better tonight.

7 thoughts on “Richmond home invasions and robberies

  1. Great post Chris! I too wonder what it is that drives people to commit such acts, and what state of mind they must be in to justify their actions. I hate the idea of living in fear and letting the "bad guys" win, but events like this seem to further my assumption that not everyone has the same moral code I do. And it isn't unreasonable to take precautions to protect myself like locking my doors at night or making sure I don't find myself in a dark alley alone at night.

    Richmond, Indiana is no where near the most dangerous place I have ever lived or visited, but it definitely leaves me wondering who's next.

  2. That is a scary trend but I strongly suspect that its happening everywhere and doesn't reflect on how "safe" Richmond is or isn't. It's easy for people in our society to feel isolated or anonymous which makes these types of crimes easier. I definitely think that enforcing social contracts through community self-policing and stronger social engagement is the best solution but as you noted, that takes time and the last 50 years of degrading the concept of "community" won't be reversed overnight.

  3. I am not sure if I would say it is a trend here locally. There have been folks doing the "kick-in-the-door-grab-what-you-can-including-violence-to-innocents" routine for years. I can think of several guys I have met with that particular MO. Not pretty, but part of the human condition.

    Generally, these folks are not "regular jobs" types anyway, so the downturn in the economy means little to them.

    The police will be all over this: This kind of violence is very unsettling, and it definitely captures the attention of the public. Sort of like pirates taking over ships.

    I do not think we have devolved to the point where our reaction to this type of crime is lacking. If anything, we have become very proficient at identifying and prosecuting low level criminal activities - we already incarcerate a greater percentage of our public than any other 1st world nation.

    Reacting to bigger picture type risks is where we fail: When will we have a "community policing" of those gurus on Wall Street who figured out a way of getting rich while bankrupting the economy?

  4. People do "crime" to get what they "need" - but cannot otherwise obtain.

    Of course, "crime" and "need" are highly subjective and fluid words here...

    In this case we're are looking at this from the bottom up, like, theft, robbery, assault, etc. - where the "needs" are fairly basic (micro-money, food, sex/attention).

    However, let's not forget the many examples happening from the top down - where the pool of victims and/or damage is immense by comparison, and often inflicted indirectly or via intermediary.

    As for the "needs" (mega-money, self-righteousness, domination/control) of these top down crimes - this is where my empathy fails me....

  5. Thomas -
    It's true that many who commit these sorts of acts aren't "regular job" types, but I definitely believe that the general anxiety our society is feeling right now contributes to crime.
    That sort of group emotional experience shows up on a more extreme scale in rioting, when even the weather is a clear factor in what individuals do. April is a standard month to go crazy, right?

  6. Good posts, Chris and Thomas.

    I'd think free contraceptives would go a long way, just as the legalization of abortion did, to select for a new generation of kids who are more likely to be wanted by their parents.

    The other one that comes to mind is early childhood education, as in Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone.
    http://www.heckmanequation.org/

    I know it's just my bias, but those seem easier to me to enact than shifts in culture or society's emotions.

  7. Late comment, but as someone who was burglarized about a year and a half ago, my experience was that the police were not all that concerned. This person was not the typical burglar, as he broke into the house in the wee hours, came into my bedroom while I was sleeping, and rifled through my purse to take cash only. No other valuables were taken. Although the burglar used a bread knife from my kitchen to cut the telephone cord just inches away from me, I was not harmed. It is likely that the burglar wanted money for methadone or some other drug.

    The person left finger prints in my bathtub, yet the police refused to take them. Even if they suspected the prints would not be clear, they could have at least taken the prints to allay my concerns. Since that time, there have been a number of burglaries in the area, some of which have escalated into including assault and battery. I often wonder if the perpetrator is the same person who broke into my house and perhaps could have been caught by now had fingerprints been taken.

    The police also gave me bad advice on how to protect my money, etc. in case another break-in occurred. I was told to get a small safe to hold my cell phone, car keys, wallet, etc. That sounded odd, and after doing a little research (and using some common sense), I found that most experts do not advise putting your valuables into a small safe. Unless a safe is nailed down or is being used as a decoy, burglars will just take it, leaving you without your car keys, cell phone, wallet, and anything else you were dumb enough to put into the safe.

    Burglary is not a minor crime, especially if you are at home when it occurs. That person, who probably thought it was not big deal to break into my home to get money, stole my sense of security in my home and my hometown. I rarely get more than five or six hours of sleep now, since I have a hard time going to bed at night. I had an alarm system installed, which is not a minor expense and is something I never thought I'd have to do here in little old Richmond.

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